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Monday, August 10, 2015

Guidelines for expired asthma medicine

The following was originally published at on December 18, 2014

Is it okay to use expired asthma medicines?

With the ever increasing cost of COPD medicines I get a lot of questions such as, “Is it okay to use expired asthma medicines?” My answer usually goes something like this: “While it’s not necessarily recommended, it might work.”

Over time asthma medicines do become less potent, although they will still work better than using nothing. In fact, most new medicines are good for two to three years from the day they are produced so long as they remain in the original packaging.

And considering a medicine may sit on the shelf of storerooms, trucks and then pharmacies, the expiration date is generally listed as one year as of your purchase date. So there is not much science behind the date on the medicine.

However, once the original container is opened for use or dispensing, the expiration date on the container no longer applies. In fact, according to, this ABC News post, the expiration date of a medicine is actually just the predicted date at which the drug will lose 10 percent of its potency.

The expiration date also assumes you are storing the medicine at the recommended temperature and humidity. Most medicine should be somewhere between 59 and 86 degrees F (15-30 degrees C) and away from light and moisture. You'll have to check the package of your medicines to see the exact recommendations.

Still, even after the expiration date has been reached the medicine will still contain some potency. How potent the medicine is is essentially a gamble, which is why expiration dates exist in the first place.

Personally, when I was a kid anyway, I have been known to find an albuterol inhaler stuffed inside a couch cushion only to find that it was expired. Usually I can tell it’s expired by the rotten mind taste, but these expired inhalers seem to work just fine.

Now that I’m an adult I try to avoid expired asthma medicines, yet if I were in a financial crunch, I would feel just fine about using expired asthma medicines, so long as it wasn’t too far beyond the expiration date. I mean, if it’s been expired a year, fine. But if it’s been two years, I’d probably toss it.

The question then becomes: Are expired COPD medicines safe? While some medicines become less safe over time, all the evidence I have found indicates that all asthma medicines are still safe even after the expiration date.

So safety is not an issue when using expired albuterol, Advair, Symbicort, and Dulera inhalers. The same is true of albuterol and levalbuterol solution. The taste might be a bit awkward, but they will still have some potency.

I have even had patients who tell me their doctor gave them free samples that were expired. With the high cost of asthma medicines these days, using expired asthma medicines is an option, if not a last resort option.

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